Steam: Friend or foe?

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Steam is a program that provides an iTunes-like service for gamers everywhere. Is your favorite store out of hard copies? No problem. Just buy it on Steam for the same price. The wait between purchase and play time might be longer, but at least users know their games will never be out of stock. This is a real advantage to gamers whose main format of playing is the PC.

In many ways Steam could be compared to Xbox Live or the PSN. It offers many of the same features that either of those console-based online services do as well. There are friends lists and achievements for games just like on either console-based online service. Steam has a bigger advantage by being willing to host free content for download, which is often a very good thing for indie game companies who are trying to get a start in the industry. Typically the indie games aren’t the greatest as far as graphics are concerned, but they tend to have an innovative style that is all their own. In this way, Steam is a huge helping hand for the gaming industry as it helps to prevent it from becoming stagnant and stale.

There are some down sides to Steam. The program is typically fully integrated into a user’s computer, thereby not allowing users to keep Steam purchases and retail purchases separate. So if a game is on Steam, it must be validated via Steam as well as by the usual means. This, while a minor annoyance, can be extremely frustrating for users at other times. The frustration has do to a number of bugs that occasionally occur within Steam that are known to prevent validation, forcing users to uninstall Steam all together.

Another issue users complained of is that pricing globally is not always equal throughout. In European union countries, the conversion rate often causes the games to cost much more than they do in other parts of the world. For versions of Steam within Russia and Thailand, the pricing of games is much less than that of other nations. The pricing can be changed on the whim of the developer allowing them to control the price artificially. It is possible, while rare, for the prices of an electronic version of a game to be higher than a retail copy.

It was recently announced that Steam Works would be making an appearance on the PSN. This would give Playstation 3 users a massive advantage over those using an Xbox 360. While the 360 does have a similar service with their games section on the dashboard, it does not typically offer new games for download. While this isn’t likely to bolster the sales of the PS3 too much, it most certainly makes the machine more appealing to those who haven’t invested in this generation of systems yet. With each company going for the ten year plan, small additions make a large impact.

Steam provides a service that most gamers crave, which is being able to get their hands on a game as soon as possible and not having to wait for hours in line for a new release. Instead, with a click of a button, they are able to purchase to their hearts delight. The issues with Steam is as it grows in popularity it could very well mark the end of hard copies for games. As Internet access grows, the need for physical game disks will shrink as more services like Steam are sure to appear in the future.